At the end of April last year, the leader of the George Street gang, Shiny Tillett, was shot dead (along with a lady friend) in his vehicle at a gas station on the Northern Highway. At the time, George Street had built a reputation as the most deadly and efficient gang organization in Belize City. In fact, when Shiny Tillett was killed, the indications were strong that, under his leadership, George Street had entered an alliance with the feared Ghosttown Crips from Mayflower Street.
In the early 1990s, Belize City’s gang configuration had been imported directly from Los Angeles: it was basic Crips and Bloods. Majestic Alley and Mayflower Street were Crips, and George Street led the Bloods. Later in the 1990s, a branch of the Bloods emerged in the Mahogany Street/ Complex area which called itself PIV (Peace In the Village). Today, the gang dynamic has become less monolithic, more splintered, more difficult to analyze.
Belize City is the largest population center in the nation, but it is still a small place. Everybody knows everybody else, and what mainstream, “respectable” society does not wish to acknowledge, or have discussed, is the fact that there are legitimate businessmen and supposedly decent politicians and bewigged attorneys who have personal, even intimate, contact with gang leaders and personalities. In Belize City, for argument’s sake, we can say that there are two worlds living side by side – the legal, legitimate world and the criminal, violent, gang world.
In the middle, in between these two worlds, are the police officers who are hired to make sense out of the ambivalent nonsense which is Belize City, an ambivalent nonsense which includes the rest of Belize. The ambivalent morality which is characteristic of this territory is from foundation. Belize was settled by pirates in the seventeenth century. The pirates and their descendants stole logwood and later mahogany from Mexico and Guatemala, then in the latter part of the nineteenth century, descendants of the pirates’ descendants sold arms and ammunition to the Maya rebels who were fighting Mérida and Campeche in the Yucatán. When the United States declared Prohibition in 1919, the descendants of the descendants of the descendants of those pirates transported bootleg liquor from Belize to American ports from Corpus Christi to New Orleans and Biloxi, to Mobile, Savannah, and Tampa. “Respectable” Belizeans began growing marijuana and exporting it to America in the 1960s, and then they graduated to cocaine in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Belize, then, has been a haven for gangsters from the beginning.
When George Street and the Ghosttown Crips entered an alliance, they would perhaps have had the Belize City underworld in virtual lockdown, except for a brilliant, fearless and charismatic gangster named Arthur Young. Arthur Young made Taylor’s Alley his base of operations, and he became a thorn in George Street’s side. Belize City is small: Taylor’s Alley is only a couple of blocks away from the George Street gang headquarters.
The number one suspect in Shiny Tillett’s murder was Arthur Young, because it was felt only Arthur Young had the expertise and the cojones to pull that off. Plus, the surveillance cameras at the gas station had captured the hit on film, and while the evidence was not definitive, the film did not exclude Arthur as the prime suspect. Let’s put it that way.
Arthur Young’s leading lady was the daughter of a former Prime Minister of Belize. They have at least one child together. Belize City is a small place. There was never any accusation, as far as we know, that Arthur Young received special treatment from the police. We’re just trying to give you a better sense of the ambivalent realities with which police officers here have to deal.
Nine days after Shiny Tillett’s execution, Arthur Young was captured by police in the Vista del Mar area. Young was handcuffed and thrown into the pan of a police pickup truck, then shot dead at the junction where the Vista del Mar access road meets the Northern Highway at Mile 8. There was no funeral. He was cremated, and his remains privately disposed of. Essentially, Belize “disappeared” Arthur Young. He is now a mythical figure. The streets believe, incidentally, that it was Arthur Young who executed the contract on the millionaire businessman Richard Hoare on Vasquez Avenue. The question now is: who took the contract on Arthur Young? Legit Belizean society does not want to know.
Neither does legit Belizean society want to know who and who all slaughtered a George Street gang leader and three others in early January of this year. The residents of George Street, immediately the four bodies were found in a George Street apartment, accused the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) of the crimes. But, legit Belizean society, to repeat, does not really want to know who committed the early January George Street murders.
This, you have to understand: gangs are not just a transplant onto Belize City: gangs grew out of the very matrix of the old capital. Yes, the gangs are out of control, but at the point where legit Belizeans society allows elements of the Belize Police Department to become gangsters themselves, and condones their crimes, is not legit society itself spinning out of control?
In this essay, we have tried to give you a sense of the moral and physical stress under which special police elements are operating in Belize. This extraordinary stress derives from the police of Belize having been dragged into a raging high stakes war between South American cocaine traffickers and drug enforcement agents of the United States of America. If it were not for the cocaine business, Belizean gangs would have not have become so dangerous and violent. And if it were not for the gangs, Belizean police officials would not have become so dangerous and violent. Ultimately, those responsible for Belize’s cops and gangs problem are the Americans who want to snort and smoke the cocaine which their government has declared illegal. Because of the insatiable crave for cocaine in the richest nation in the world, gangsters in Belize have been murdering each other, and now, it appears, cops are permitted to murder gangsters. This is real.